You just can’t escape some vampires

We’ve all been following the FCC’s net neutrality controversy, the spat between Comcast and Netflix and the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Today we learned that David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast predicted at a conference Wednesday that in five years’ time, the company will have “a usage-based billing model rolled out across its footprint.”

That would mean, if the Time Warner Cable deal goes through, the new entity (‘ComTimeWarn’ perhaps?) could start charging an estimated 40% of the US broadband users extra fees any time they use more than their allotted amount of bandwidth (an amount that ComTimeWarn will determine is reasonable for a citizen to consume).

Now that the FCC has backpedaled all the way under the skirts of service providers across the nation and voted to approve an ‘everyone is entitled to net neutrality, but some entities will be more entitled than others’ approach, ComTimeWarn could also start charging content providers who want to deliver all that bandwidth-allotment-eating content to ComTimeWarn subscribers.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal…for ComTimeWarn that is.

Now you would think ComTimeWarn would want to encourage companies like Netflix to serve up as much bandwidth-allotment-eating content as possible so they can charge subscribers for going over their limits every month. But I suppose it would be a matter of calculating which revenue stream is larger – the amount of overage charges they could collect from their subscribers or the fees they collect from content providers.

Actually, I’m sure the bean counters at ComTimeWarn would opt for the third choice and simply charge everyone.

So everyone who isn’t ComTimeWarn gets screwed.

But what’s the alternative? Zuckerberg’s broadband balloons? Probably not going to happen anytime soon.

I was thinking, however, of a system of millions of small, interconnected Wi-Fi hotspots scattered around the country (or the globe) all tied together with load-balancing capabilities to distribute connectivity where demand was highest. You could practically give away these little boxes (they wouldn’t cost much to manufacture) and the more people in a given area who had these boxes in their homes (or mounted on telephone poles) the more shared bandwidth they would have. Once you had a large enough network, broadband access could be virtually free for everyone.

It’s worth a thought.